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This article also covers the idents used by PBS's predecessor, National Educational Television.
The National Educational Television and Radio Center was established in November 1952. Its original on-air logo was used from then to 1962. It was a two-dimensional still shot of a white map silhouette of the United States inside a black oval over a white background. Inside the map design are three sets of segmented lines shaped like television monitors with the letters NET inside each box. A TV antenna appears vertically through the map design with the words National Educational Television at the top and Educational Television and Radio Center underneath. A version with a circle saying NET and a version with a map saying National Educational Television have also existed.
The original ident for the National Educational Television was used from 1962 to October 2, 1966. It was a simple still shot of the network's logo—the letters "NET" with a slanted roof coming out of the top-right of the "T", hanging over the "N" and the "E," with a small antenna sticking out over the "N." There are also "stars" all over the screen. Meanwhile, an announcer says, "This is National Educational Television."
The third ident was used from 1966 to 1968. First, gray dots appear and disappear rapidly. A white circle is drawn around the dots. A vertical line is drawn over the circle, but then is erased. A small fire appears in the circle. Several curved vertical and horizontal lines cover the circle to create an image of the globe. Several white lines appear under the globe to form the letters "NET". The globe ultimately winds up on top of the "T". The music playing in the background during the animation is industrious-sounding. When the animation is complete, an announcer says, "This is N-E-T, the National Educational Television network."
First, the left section of the screen fills with red from the bottom, the middle section fills with yellow from the top, and the right section fills with blue from the bottom. Then, one at a time, the sections flip outward to form the letters N, E, and T (in that order) over a black background. An announcer says, "The following program is from/this is NET, the National Educational Television network." As he does this, the words "National Educational Television" appear over each of the letters, then morph into a gable roof connected to the blue T with an aerial antenna connected to it. On later variants, a different announcer says, "The following program is from/this is NET, the public television network." Once this variant was introduced the "National Educational Television" wordmarks were replaced with a blue line that slid into view, then took the roof shape.
The color versions of the opening and closing idents are included on the second volume of the Sesame Street: Old School DVD with the first test pilot episode.
In 1970, PBS introduced its first ident. The words "Public Broadcasting Service" were centered and stacked one on top of the other while Macdonald Carey intoned "This is PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service." This logo was used until 1971 and kept the familiar red-yellow-blue color scheme that NET was using.
The second PBS ident was used from 1971 to September 30, 1984. It features cel-animated tricolor letters that assemble onscreen to form the logo, similar to the concepts used for production logos from that era, such as those from MTM Enterprises.
This logo starts with a full-screen abstract blue "P," which zooms out to the upper-middle, taking on the shape of a face in profile (which would later become the PBS P-Head) as it moves left. Soon after, an orange "B" and then a green "S" appear, with dots punched out to form the letters. In tandem with the letters appearing, the words "PUBLIC BROADCASTING SERVICE" appear individually at the bottom of the screen, left-aligned, and in a sans-serif typeface.
Lubalin's human face "P", known internally at PBS as "Everyman", but more commonly known as "P-Head", became the basis for all subsequent PBS idents.
Chermayeff & Geismar felt that the Lubalin-designed logo too much resembled the logos of the three dominant commercial networks of the time, and they sought "to develop a symbol that could stand for the more inclusive concept of 'public television'". They inverted Lubalin's "Everyman" "P" to face right instead of left, repeated the outline as a series "to suggest a multitude, a public", and renamed the icon "Everyone".
The ident starts with a blue abstract profile of the human face, facing right, set on a black background. A piece comes out to the right, and settles a short distance from the profile. The letters "PBS" appear below in a white, slab serif typeface. The accompanying music, composed by Jonathan Elias, consists of a majestic piano chord accompanied by some pizzicato tones, then a softer version of the piano chord.
A version of the logo appeared at the end of the first episode of Square One Television in which it appeared as normal, then multiplied with a background chorus singing "And on, and on, and on...". This was to coincide with the song "Infinity", which was featured in that episode.
The fourth PBS ident was used from 1989 to 1993. On a black background, a side-facing transparent blue P-head moves to the right, leaving behind a trail of P's. The trailing P's fade into the PBS logo from before, which blends into the center of the screen, occupying almost all of it. Several white and rainbow lines streak across the bottom of the screen, leaving the text "PBS" in the same typeface as before to the bottom left. An announcer (provided by actor Liam Neeson) says, "This is PBS."
The fifth PBS ident was used from 1993 to 1996. Designed by the New York design firm Telezign, it starts with a pink glass circle rotating while eight faces of various people appear and disappear within it. Then, we zoom out through the eye of the stylized P's in an orange/pink installation art environment. The familiar "PBS" text spins in, in white and to the left of the P.
The accompanying music, composed by Peter Fish, is described as "a musical signature that employs four different voices (a pop singer, a blues singer, a soprano and a bass), with qualities ranging from classical to jazz". A male voice (provided by actor Christopher Murney) says "This is PBS."
This ID is not animated with computer graphics, but rather was created traditionally on film. The stylized P is frosted glass, and the PBS text is rotated into place by rods beneath a rostrum. The movement of the scene was created with a motion control camera.
The sixth PBS ident was used from 1996 to 1998. Its composition now included of a variety of objects: A telescope rotates in the lower left corner; a globe of the Earth appears at upper right; while at center a framed windowpane zooms in. The various objects fade away to reveal the stylized P's, which are initially yellow-green with the right section colored blue. These colors change to blue and green, respectively, while the "PBS" text fades in below. The end result resembles the 3rd ident. Then, actress Lauren Bacall says "This is PBS", or occasionally "You're watching PBS".
The seventh PBS ident was used from 1998 to 2002. It is a combination of live action and computer effects. It begins with a man or woman holding up a black, round disc printed with a white PBS logo. As he/she holds the disc in front of his/her face, several superimposed acrobats jump and somersault behind the person, in a circular pattern. The letters "PBS" appear in black to the right of the disc, with the PBS website address (www.pbs.org) below the letters. This is the first time the website address has appeared in a PBS ident.
The accompanying music is a world music/new age piece, with Lauren Bacall once again saying "This is PBS." Sometimes, Bacall will say "You're watching your public television station, PBS." People who have held the round disc in this ident include Jocelyne Loewen, Jake Martin, Kyle Hebert, Lynne Thigpen, Michelle Ruff, Chris Rock, Steve Burns, Gong Li, and even Bacall herself.
This ident also introduced a minor change to the PBS logo. From here on, the PBS profile logo always appears in a black circle, with the "PBS" text to the right. According to Chermayeff & Geismar, the disc was added to protect the logo "from background interference".w
The eighth PBS ident was used from 2002 to 2009. It features live-action footage filmed on a large set with a hardwood floor and shaggy brown curtains and has many variants, including "Young People" (voiceover by Edie Mirman), "Performers" (voiceover by David Kaye), "Flowers" (voiceover by Helen Mirren), "Daddy and Son" (voiceover by Kyle Eastwood), "Cowboy" (voiceover by David Kaye), and "Generations" (voiceover by Edie Mirman). It ends with the PBS logo animating over the scene. Each variant has its own special arrangement of the current PBS promo music, along with a voiceover. The voiceover is one of these four people saying "We are PBS," or occasionally, "I am PBS."
There is also a version that uses a purple-blue background instead of the original shaggy brown curtains. The words "Perspective. Analysis. Understanding." flash briefly and fade out, then "Be More" scans to the right, followed by "PBS" in white. Bob Hilton says, "This is PBS." This variant can only be seen on Frontline.
The ninth PBS ident was used from 2009 to present. The idents show various people engaged in different, leisurely activities, some stargazing and others reading a scrapbook. Each ends with a voiceover saying "Be more, PBS," or occasionally, "You're watching PBS." The "Be more" slogan is displayed, with the PBS logo to the right. "PBS" in text follows which transitions to the website "pbs.org." The idents were designed by Los Angeles-based Troika Design Group.